Last summer, my friend Marta, who recently moved to Philadelphia from Brazil with her husband and two small children, asked me which is more important in America — Thanksgiving or Christmas?
I told her Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, although Canadians celebrate a similar version in early October.
I explained that Thanksgiving is enjoyed by Americans of every faith. It is a totally secular holiday. It doesn’t matter where your ancestors came from; all Americans look forward to Thanksgiving Day.
Humorist Art Buchwald once wrote that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when Americans eat better than the French. We prepare turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes and pecan pie, all New World Native-American foods. Recipes for stuffing, or what Southerners call dressing, vary from region to region. Americans south of the Mason-Dixon Line make dressing with cornbread, sometimes adding oysters to the ingredients. Many American Jews make stuffing using challah as the base. Some home cooks add chestnuts or sausages, along with saut�ed onions, to their stuffing.
Through the years, I have learned you don’t tamper with Thanksgiving. Once the traditions are set, you never change them. There is a warm comfort knowing the table will be groaning with every dish family and friends look forward to savoring each Thanksgiving Day.
This year marks my 20th Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We always begin with a fish course because it is a Stein-Novack tradition. For the past five years, I have served jumbo shrimp cocktails because they are prepared in advance and everyone loves them. One year I deviated from my mushroom stuffing and prepared it with chestnuts. My nieces would not touch it. My sister turned her nose up. My mother thought it was, well, "unusual."
"Where’s the mushroom stuffing?" they asked. Back I went to mushroom stuffing.
Since I never serve salad on Thanksgiving, I prepare a relish tray. During the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, restaurants placed bowls of pickles, pickled tomatoes, olives, radishes and scallions, and carrot and celery sticks on tables. Sometimes they were nestled in crushed ice. A dazzling array of olives from Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Israel and the United States is now easily available, either fresh or packed in jars. Guests will enjoy them with the crudit�s.
If you follow my directions, you will enjoy a succulent roasted turkey. Buy only a fresh turkey, preferably kosher or organic, from a reputable butcher. If you are going to stuff the bird, pack the stuffing in loosely, do not cram it in. Stuffing expands inside the bird. Any leftover stuffing can be heated in the microwave.
Here are recipes for a traditional Thanksgiving. Next week, I will give you more recipes to make your celebration special.
1 (15-pound) fresh turkey, giblets removed, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can chicken stock
2 medium onions, cut into chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sweet imported Hungarian paprika
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pour chicken stock into a large roasting pan. Scatter the onion and celery on the bottom. Place turkey in the pan. Pour some oil in your hand and using both hands, massage the oil all over the breast, wings and thighs. Add more oil as needed. Sprinkle on salt, pepper and paprika.
Cover the turkey with the roasting pan lid. Roast 20 minutes per pound if you’ve stuffed the bird, 15 minutes a pound if you did not stuff the bird. Baste from time to time. Remove the lid for the last hour of roasting time. Turkey is done when juices run clear when pierced with a fork and leg wiggles easily from its joint. Wait about 20 minutes before carving the bird. I’ve found an electric knife to be the best utensil for carving. Place pan juices with vegetables in a saucepan. Mix together 2 tablespoons cornstarch with a 6-ounce glass of water. Heat the gravy and whisk in the cornstarch. You may have to add more to get desired thickness. Strain gravy into a sauce boat.
Serves 12 with leftovers.
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon each curry powder, ginger, allspice and cinnamon
1-1/2 cups water
2 navel oranges, zest grated, cut into sections
1 apple, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 pounds fresh cranberries, divided
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, curry powder, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Add the orange zest, orange sections and apple. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 3/4 pound cranberries (about 3 cups). Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until thickened.
Add the remaining cranberries and about 1/4 cup water. Simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and place in the refrigerator until chilled.
Serves 10 to 12.
Note: You can make the cranberry sauce a day or two ahead.
From USA Cookbook by Sheila Lukins
1 (9-inch) single-crust pie crust
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons bourbon
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups pecan halves
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Combine the eggs, corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, bourbon and salt in a bowl and mix well.
Arrange 1 cup of the pecan halves evenly over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the filling carefully over the pecans. Arrange the remaining 1/2 cup of pecans decoratively on top of the filling.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is set, about 40 minutes. If necessary, cover the rim of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent burning. Let cool on a rack before serving warm or at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream.
Serves six to eight.
Note from Phyllis: If time is short, you can use frozen pie shells (I usually do) or refrigerated pie crust dough, both of which can be found in supermarkets. Follow the directions on the package.